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Published: 2009/03/01
by Brian Ferdman

Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris

Outsider Pictures

A filmmaker is driving in his car and hears an intoxicating voice singing jazz on the radio. The deejay says the singer is Jackie Paris, and the filmmaker sets out to find more of his work, but everything is out of print, save for an imported Japanese CD of an album from the 1950s. Further research tells him that Paris died in 1977, and the story reaches an abrupt ending until the filmmaker accidentally discovers that the very same Mr. Paris will be performing a comeback concert at New York's Jazz Standard, so he grabs a camera to try to solve the strange riddle of this enigmatic singer. This is the premise of the wonderfully captivating ‘Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris.

A great entertainer, Paris was considered to be one of the most gifted tap dancers of his day. In his prime, his voice was a mellifluous, golden baritone, and he used unique harmonies and great phrasing in his delivery. These qualities earned him the respect and admiration of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Lenny Bruce, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. He was the vocalist of choice for both Parker and Mingus, had to turn down work for Ellington because he had toured to the point of exhaustion with Hampton, performed many triumphant opening slots for Bruce, had an affair with Vaughn, and was said to be Fitzgerald's favorite singer. He broke records for consecutive gigs on New York's famed 52nd Street and was recognized as the favorite male jazz singer by numerous industry publications.

So if he was loved by so many and had so much talent, why did Jackie Paris never become a household name? It is the central question of this fascinating documentary, and we learn that Paris hit on an improbable streak of bad luck that effectively doomed his career. All of these unfortunate twists and turns are described, as we also discover that the man had a bit of a puzzling personal life, a mystery that slowly unravels throughout the film.

Of course, when a very talented man lives his entire life and never sees his promise fulfilled with the kind of fame and financial success that his peers received, one would expect him to be rather bitter, but this is not the case for one Jackie Paris. Instead, he comes across as an affable, cheerful guy and a man who feels lucky to have had the opportunity to sing these great songs. And sing he does! Even in his late seventies, his infectious charm shines through his lush vocal interpretations. His is a voice that charismatically sucks you in, and I found myself so enthralled by this film and its incredibly gifted subject that as soon the DVD ended, I immediately went online to purchase some Jackie Paris albums. Simply put, it’s incredibly difficult to watch ‘Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris without becoming a fan of the singer. He’s just that good, and perhaps this documentary will right over 50 years of wrongs bestowed upon a man who deserved to be a star.

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